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Sensemaker: How to win

Sensemaker: How to win

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Palestinian militants fired six rockets towards Israel after Israeli forces killed 11 in a daytime raid in the West Bank. 
  • The UK government confirmed it will establish an independent regulator to oversee English football. 
  • A blizzard warning was issued in southern California for the first time since 1989 as a major winter storm unfolds across the northern US.           

How to win

In Warsaw on Tuesday Joe Biden said Putin’s invasion of Ukraine would “never be a victory for Russia”. The day before he said Putin’s goal was to wipe Ukraine off the map but that he would be defeated. He did not say Ukraine has to win. 

So what? After 364 days of all-out war there is still solid western backing for Ukraine, but there’s a gap between what Washington and Kyiv are saying out loud. Some US officials doubt Ukraine could retake all its territory even with an unchecked flow of weapons. But from Kyiv’s point of view it’s clear that

  • this is not about a piece of territory but Ukraine’s existence as a sovereign state; and
  • to secure that requires victory, not just resistance.

What would that take?

Ammunition, fast. For the last two decades, the US and EU have based their defence planning on the need for reach and counter-insurgency. Their stockpiles are inadequate for a sustained ground war, but Russia is waging a WWI-type artillery campaign in Ukraine, using as many munitions every day as Europe produces in a month. 

Russia’s munitions factories are in 24/7 wartime mode, while for most European armies the procurement process for a 155mm artillery shell still takes a year, and for an air-to-air missile three years. 

Two things have to happen to speed that up:

  • the urgent introduction of a joint EU procurement process of the kind Commission President Ursula von der Leyen recommended last weekend in Munich; and
  • an increase to US military spending over and above its already colossal $817 billion defence budget. 

Without a rapid increase in munitions supply, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell says this war will “be over”. 

Warfare hardware. Trying to help Ukraine with tanks, many countries have found that few are serviceable. Boris Pistorius, the German defence minister, has found it difficult to assemble the two full battalions of Leopard 2s promised last month by Chancellor Scholz. 

The UK’s Ben Wallace admitted last week that many countries including Britain have faced a reality check when “politicians sent their military to warehouses and found that their tanks were not ready or repaired for delivery”. The 14 Challenger 2s the UK is sending will come from combat duty, not from stock.

Apart from tanks and munitions, Ukraine needs armoured vehicles, howitzers, helicopters and, yes, jets. 

Unity. Collective decision-making to support Ukraine has functioned in key forums in the past year, but can’t be taken for granted. 

  • Nato. So far alliance members have been willing to cross supposed red lines (on artillery and tanks) as long as they are not seen to go first. That pattern will be tested in what secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg warns could be a very long haul
  • EU. Hungary is opposing the latest EU sanctions against Russia as well as arms deliveries and economic aid to Ukraine. There will be protests across Germany this weekend calling for an end to weapons shipments.
  • US. Ukraine’s support in Congress is bipartisan for now, but campaigning for the 2024 election starts in earnest soon. If Trump wins the Republican nomination, “he is going to be in front of the cameras every single day telling Americans they are spending too much,” says Chatham House’s Dr Leslie Vinjamuri. 
  • US-EU. Whether Europe is pulling its weight and paying its way in terms of aid to Ukraine could become a source of tension between the US and the EU in an American election year. 

Sanctions. They are biting, but nowhere near as effectively as hoped. Packages approved in the past year have

  • cut Russian banks off from international payments system;
  • sanctioned 15,000 individuals for corruption and supporting Putin;
  • prevented Russia from accessing technologies – especially advanced semiconductors – needed for industry, infrastructure, civil aviation and weapons production; and
  • ended Russian oil sales in Europe and capped the price of Russian oil elsewhere at $60 a barrel. 

But the Russian economy has not collapsed. The IMF forecasts it will grow this year and next unless third countries like China and India can be persuaded to stop buying and reselling Russian products, which is almost certain not to happen.  

There is a path to victory for Ukraine, but it is narrow and dangerous and may not be open long. 

This is the first of two Sensemaker specials to mark the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Tomorrow: the price of defeat.


Central Asian switcheroo
Can’t sell your white goods and computers direct to Russia any more? Not a problem. Ship them via Kazakhstan. Or Kyrgyzstan, Armenia or Turkey. The FT’s splash this morning is on evidence of sanctions-dodging by exporters in the US and EU, found largely in data from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Kazakhstan imported four times as many washing machines from the EU last year as the year before. Overall exports to Armenia and Kyrgyzstan from the EU and US were up 80 per cent. Not good. Not easy to police either. But what of this bizarre seven-part UK government advertorial that ran last week in the Telegraph trumpeting trade opportunities across Central Asia? Does Global Britain really have to cosy up to elective dictatorships for want of friends elsewhere, especially when they appear to be helping Russia fund its war?


Call of the market
Microsoft is nervous about its plans to buy the video games giant Activision Blizzard being tossed out by UK competition authorities. So nervous that it’s drawing up ten-year agreements for other games companies to access Call of Duty at the same time as its Xbox players. But only if the deal goes through. By agreeing to provide its games to Nintendo (in a deal announced last week) and Nvidia (announced yesterday) it wants to look more competition-friendly. But Sony – Microsoft’s main rival in the video game market – won’t back down from opposing the acquisition, even though it’s been offered the same ten-year terms. The Competition and Markets Authority plans to rule on the deal on 23 April 2023. Call of Duty earns about $30 million for Activision Blizzard every month.

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

Alzheimer’s hope
Alzheimer’s carers and charities are hoping a medical breakthrough last year could seed a broader transformation in how dementia patients are looked after. The breakthrough was the FDA’s approval of lecanemab in the US after trials showed it slowed cognitive decline in patients with an early diagnosis. The transformation, Sir Tony Robinson told Tortoise last night, should extend to all dementia sufferers and their carers. There are two obvious obstacles in the UK: Jeremy Hunt, who called for £7 billion for the sector in his last job as health select committee chair but is offering less than a tenth as much in his present one as chancellor. And a parliamentary cycle that means promises are made and forgotten about in Westminster every five years. A more far-sighted politician might note that a quarter of all hospital beds in the UK are occupied by dementia sufferers. Help them into proper care, and the £180 billion-a-year NHS might function again.

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Everything Everywhere 
Two maps released this week show the scale of “forever chemical” pollution worldwide. PFAS compounds, known as “forever chemicals” because they break down very slowly, are known to cause health problems in humans; some are linked to cancers and developmental issues. Now, a review of more than 100 peer-reviewed studies by the Environmental Working Group has mapped the pollutants in more than 330 animal species worldwide. “Likely anywhere you test for these compounds, you will find them,” said David Andrews, a senior scientist who contributed to the report. A separate mapping project published by the Guardian today shows high levels of PFAS at hundreds of sites across the UK and Europe, with a 3M site in Belgium home to the highest concentration. In the UK, the highest levels were found near a chemicals plant on the River Wyre.


Mission launch
The polls put the UK’s Labour party on course for a landslide election victory in 2024. So what would Keir Starmer do with a win? He’s due to speak in Manchester today to start answering that question, laying out a “five mission” vision for the country. This includes: having the highest sustained growth in the G7; making sure the NHS is “fit for the future”; removing barriers to opportunity; making the UK a clean energy superpower and tackling crime. In a nod to criticism of Rishi Sunak’s five pledges outlined earlier this year, Starmer told the BBC: “Nobody is going to say, ‘That’s vague, that’s something that is going to be easily achievable’.” Politico says Labour will hold five more events to set out each goal in more detail between now and the summer, with the first on the economy expected as soon as Monday. A modest proposal: ban the word “superpower” from Labour literature. It’s a meaningless cliché and voters know it.

Thanks for reading. Please tell your friends to sign up, send us ideas and let us know what you think. Email sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com.

Nina Kuryata

Additional reporting by Giles Whittell, Jess Winch and Luke Gbedemah.

Photographs Getty Images

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